The New York Times recently published a lengthy article analyzing the evolution of President Obama’s counter-terrorism policies, including his decision to continue three Bush-era policies he criticized heavily as a presidential candidate: rendition, military commissions, and indefinite detention.
The tone of the NYT piece is primarily one of awe and reverence at President Obama’s judgment. He certainly deserves a great deal of credit for pragmatically breaking a broad array of defense-related campaign pledges once he assumed office.
However, it wasn’t long ago that numerous public figures were comparing President Bush and Vice-President Cheney to the Nazis for nearly identical policy decisions. The NYT itself was famously critical of the Bush administration’s national defense policies, including the NSA’s use of warrantless wiretaps (another controversial program continued by President Obama without similar outcry from the media).
One interesting revelation in the New York Times piece was that after more than three years in office, only one suspected terrorist has been detained by the United States, due lar
gely to Obama’s reliance on targeted drone strikes in conducting the War on Terrorism. Here is how the NYT described the process:
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.
The author then goes on to describe how every week or so more than 100 members of the government’s national security apparatus gather to “nominate” suspected terrorists “who should be the next to die.”
This process was most controversially used to select and kill suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011, an American citizen. The Obama administration subsequently refused to release the Department of Justice opinions concluding that Awlaki’s Fifth Amendment due process rights were satisfied, despite previously releasing scores of similar Bush-era legal opinions (the media apparently deemed such refusals more controversial when President Bush was doing the withholding).
Under the law of war, the use of targeted drone strikes to destroy high-value targets, even when some innocent civilians are killed in the process, is permissible. However, it seems to be an awkward balancing act when the Obama administration places such a high value on the humane treatment and due-process rights of captured terror suspects, while at the same time taking no issue with their targeted killing when we happen to locate them in Pakistan or Yemen.
If it were less than a year before the 2008 election, it’s difficult to imagine that the media would be so friendly to the idea of Bush serving as judge, jury, and executioner of suspected terrorists, particularly when they are American citizens. The ridiculous “dictator” claims of the far-left during the Bush years also come to mind.
Either way, if presumptive GOP-nominee Mitt Romney is elected and adopts most of President Obama’s counter-terrorism policies, he might as well call them “Bush-Obama” policies. Even though the vast majority of them are truly Bush’s, given the media double-standard, it seems politically wise to market his policies as having received the Obama seal-of-approval.